Lexicon Index —Ayn Rand Lexicon

Jennifer Burns: Yeah. It's interesting. So, she did have a very powerful charisma. And she also had a very powerful negative charisma--which, I think goes back to that bookshelf. Some people just Ayn Rand. They cannot stand her. They have a very visceral, negative reaction. And others, especially those who met her at the right moment, just sort of fell under her spell. And I think some of that goes to her very unusual personality where--she what she wrote about, in terms of being a true individualist, very solitary. Doesn't mean she didn't care about other people or have strong emotions or want the high regard of other people. She absolutely did want that. But, she was free from a lot of the sort of striving for status in power and positioning, so she could have a very unique[?] perspective on someone when she met them; and she could have, for all her difficulty reading other people's emotions, she sometimes would get a very sort of deep and pure insight into your core. And she could give that to a person, and just win their unending loyalty. Now, then might become a sort of dominant relationship where, she was so overwhelming, she was so quick, she had thought so much about what she stood on every issue that it was very hard to disagree with her. And she would sort of use this logical web of: 'If you agree in rationality, here are my first premises; you agree with my first premise, now, here we go. You can't break free because I've already got you to agree on the basics, and you're going to follow me wherever I go.' And, it started going in very strange directions in terms of the type of music you could listen to, the types of movies that these premises would lead you to. And so--I mean, you called it frightening, this sort of cult of personality. I'd add a couple of things to that. So, as I describe in my book, when she moved to New York in the mid-1950s, she had a whole series of encounters with conservatives, some of whom began to follow her philosophy; many of whom did for a short while and then sort of broke away, or, like yourself, found certain things missing or inadequate. And then, she pulled to her a group of college students, or actually recent college graduates, centered around a young couple, Barbara Branden and Nathaniel Branden. And they became sort of the core set of her social life and her intellectual life and her world. And they pulled in others--among them, Alan Greenspan is kind of the most famous member of this group--that called themselves 'The Collective.' And, a couple of things, I would say--we'll get to the, I assume we'll get to the relationship with the Brandens--it's sort of its own set of discussions. But, when I really came to see is the 1950s and the 1960s, for intellectuals and cultural figures, were kind of the Age of the Entourage. Like, you weren't anybody until you had an entourage. Like, think about Frank Lloyd Wright--he had Taliesin; he had all these people designing like him. It was sort of a mark of status and accomplishment if you had this . And also, for Rand, who was outside of any kind of institution. She wouldn't graduate students. She wouldn't have, you know, necessarily, proteges in the typical way she would hire or in that way they would simply become part of her social world. Now, you called it 'scary.' And it true that there's a lot of first-person, eye-witness testimony that, to be in this tight inner circle, very close to Rand, could be very psychologically damaging for people and, sort of stifling; and that to stay there long term, you had to--and this is this giant, grand paradox--suppress your individuality in order to support Rand's specific idea of what individualism was. And so, in that inner core, it was like--I mean, Murray Rothbard has this incredible letter. I don't know if your listeners will be familiar with Rothbard, anarcho-capitalist--you know, very libertarian. And he met Rand, and he kind of went hot and cold on her. And eventually he sent her this letter that was like, 'When I met you, you were like the sun, and I thought you would burn me up if I got too close.' You know? And, so if you knew Rand in New York in the 1950s, that could be a dangerous spot. Now, if you were a couple of degrees out, and you read her book at the right time and the right place, it might change your life. And it might change your life for the better. And I, regularly meet--and this is actually an interesting angle of her, and her relationship with women and gender--I all the time meet women who read her at a certain moment in their lives, and said, 'Things are different for me, since I read that book.' I just met a woman who said, 'When I first read Ayn Rand, I thought I was going to be a nurse. And after I finished Ayn Rand, I was like: No. I'm going to be a doctor.' And she became a doctor. And so, that aspect of Rand, I think is also really important. And people can get over-focused on this cult in New York, because it's so interesting and fascinating and kind of weird. But, I really think the true impact of Rand is several--if you think of concentric circles of influence or readership around her, it's not that tight-knit group. It's a view , is where you really have people being impacted by her philosophy in ways personal and ways political.

Ayn Rand (1905—1982) Ayn Rand was a major intellectual of the twentieth century

Russ Roberts: That's interesting. I think it's mainly a difference between the public, the media, and then academia. So, I think the public and the media have been respectful of Friedman, more or less, partly because of that credential he has: the fact that he was a U. of Chicago professor; eventually he has the Nobel Prize. But, among fellow academics, there was--a lot of people thought he was a kook, thought he was crazy, thought he was dangerous, and hated him for his policy positions. I'm curious how--let me rephrase this. Your views on Ayn Rand's philosophy do not come through in the book. Which is a tribute to your scholarship and your even-handedness and your role as a historian. I think you can read this book and have no idea what Jennifer Burns thinks of Ayn Rand. And, I'm not going to ask you now--you can talk about it if you want--but I'm more curious about the social aspect of it. Which is: I'm curious how your friends and family reacted to the fact that your book is pretty even-handed. Because, I suspect, like you said: there are plenty of people out there, you know and love who--a few of them don't like Ayn Rand; I bet a lot of them don't like her. And--what was their reaction to the book? And, what was the reaction academically and among historians?


Top 10 Reasons Ayn Rand was Dead Wrong - CBS News

Jennifer Burns: Very tasteless review. Very tasteless review. It's interesting though that Rothbard, who had this kind of checkered relationship with Rand, when it came out he, like, peppered Chambers with these letters, saying, 'How could you write this horrible thing? You're a horrible person.' And then, like 5 years later, he's writing to Chambers again and he's like, 'Oh, my God, you were right. How did you know? How could you tell? You just read that book and you knew exactly. I went through it all; that's exactly what happened to me.' And so, you know, Chambers put his finger on something important about Rand; it also was a really intense review, very negative. And I think there's a bit of, you know, discrimination going on for Rand for kind of daring to play in these circles, as a woman wasn't particularly certified or educated or didn't have a, you know, connections in the United States--it's sort of like, 'Who are ?' Like, you know, 'You're not part of our movement. Get away.' And so, then, the kind of irony of that story is that Rand would go away. I mean, had a [?] publishing articles about her--like, every couple of years they'd have to publish an article about Ayn Rand because their readers loved her so much. So, what I was sort of showing as an historian was there's this conflict and it's never really resolved. It's just attention that's always there, and it's always being kind of worked through in different ways. And it's still around today.